History Of Regional Planning Research Paper

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1. The Term ‘Regional Planning’

‘Gallia est omnia in partes tres.’ All Gaul is divided into three parts. This command, from the reign of Julius Caesar in the first century BC, no doubt is one of the earliest example of regional planning. A region is a district or area defined by generally recognizable attributes, physical cultural, economic, or political. The word ‘region’ derives from the Latin ‘regio,’ meaning direction or boundary, and from ‘regere,’ to direct. Thus the concept of region embodies the interaction among place, people, and work or economy. A region may or may not be formally recognized as a political entity or sub-division. More likely a region is simply a shared mental construct of its constituents.

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Regional planning then is the effort of the society or elements in the society to intervene in the integrated developmental evolution of the area in question. In ancient kingdoms, the wishes and wisdom of the ruler constituted the regional planning conception for the society. Values and objectives underlying regional planning and foresight particularly included protection from external threats, but also the provision of infrastructure—roads, water, the enhancement and protection of productive fields and forests, provision for population growth and economic development activities such as industry and trade, cultural enrichment, and provision for societal continuity in succeeding generations. These values and practices were often codified in religious beliefs and scripts. These values still underlie and are used to justify contemporary efforts to define and carry out regional planning.

At this point it will be helpful to discuss a few related words or concepts. We need first to distinguish regional from city planning. The concepts are related but city planning implies a polis or civic entity governed by elected or other recognized official bodies. A region does not necessarily have such official status. Indeed, often it does not.

Regional analysis is the study of the interaction of key variables—physical, social and economic—in a regional context. Regional science, a relatively recent evolution founded upon economic location theory, seeks to describe and predict systemic regional phenomena.

We need also to distinguish types of regions. The European Community is a region comprised of nation states seeking to develop a commonality of purpose and policy, which presumably will result in superior outcomes for its constituent members. The European Union thus practices a kind of multi-state regional planning, much as the federal government in the United States does for the aggregate of its fifty constituent states. Parts of nation-states also may constitute regions. One thinks of Scotland and Wales in the United Kingdom or the Appalachian Region or the Great Plains of the United States.

Another distinction among regions is between mono-nodal, multi-nodal, and non-nodal regions. Metropolitan regions are examples of mono-and sometimes multi-nodal regions. Natural resource regions are often non-nodal. River basin regions are another category: linear regions.

Regions can also be distinguished as growth regions or as lagging regions. Regions may lag in development behind national averages, due to lack of natural resources, limited accessibility, or cultural or educational factors. Much attention has been given to assisting lagging regions to ‘catch up,’ with mixed results.

Today, we hear much about ‘integrated regional resource management.’ and ‘sustainable development.’ These concepts, while imprecise and difficult to measure, are increasingly shaping the directions towards which regional policy planning is moving.

We should also distinguish between ‘regional planning,’ and ‘regional plan.’ A regional plan is a specific document which lays out in physical detail a future desired end-state. It may also contain social and economic policy statements. The regional plan is typically based on a regional survey of social, economic, and physical factors. ‘Regional planning’ is the process by which regional plans are made. ‘Regional policy’ is a related concept. Regional policies are, in effect, guidelines to realize or implement regional plans.

2. Origins And Practice Of Regional Planning

The origins of modern regional planning doctrine can be traced to reactions to the oppressive conditions created by the Industrial Revolution in nineteenth century England and France. Robert Owen and Charles Fourier proposed utopian schemes for alternative workers’ housing and communities. Piotr Kropotkin’s Fields, Factories and Workshops (1901) offered insights into the connections of people, land and labor. Charles Booth’s Life and Labor in London (1892) systematically surveyed the conditions of working class people. Ebenezer Howard’s 1902 Garden Cities of Tomorrow presented an influential alternative to unplanned metropolitan expansion. Patrick Geddes, a Scottish biologist, published his Cities in Evolution in 1915. Geddes’ synthesis of the salient connections among people, land, economic activity, and natural systems greatly influenced the American essayist and critic, Lewis Mumford. Mumford, in turn promoted Geddes’ integrative approach to social and public policy through such books as The Culture of Cities (1938). Through Mumford, Geddes’ ideas influenced the Regional Planning Association of America (RPAA), a progressive private group concerned with development which was active in the 1920s and 1930s.

2.1 The Regional Planning Association Of America

The RPAA embraced Ebenezer Howard’s idea to siphon off and channel new growth at the suburban edges of existing large cities into planned garden cities. The group also espoused the notion that economic growth should be decentralized to smaller cities and towns and diverted from large metropolitan areas. The RPAA was especially influential in New York State, where Governor Al Smith appointed Stein and his fellow RPAA colleague, Henry Wright, to a newlycreated Commission on Housing and Regional Planning. In 1926, the Commission issued a regional plan for the state that called for a concentrated grid of lines of transportation and communication along major corridors, separation of cities and highways, and the creation of independent communities away from the centralizing tendencies of its major cities. Protection of forest, farmlands and recreation areas were also proposed. The plan had considerable influence on policy and some of its proposals were ultimately carried out. What is notable is that these policies and issues are still under serious debate some 75 years later (Spann 1996).

The RPAA’s conception of regional planning inevitably brought the group into conflict with the well-funded effort to create a Regional Plan for the New York metropolitan area begun in 1921 under the direction of Thomas Adams, a British town planner who had worked on plans for garden cities of Welwyn and Letchworth, and the Greater London region.

2.2 The Regional Plan Of New York And Its Environs

The monumental Regional Plan of New York and Its Environs, begun in 1921 and published in 1929 (Committee on the Regional Plan of New York and Its Environs 1929). The plan brought together many of the development trends and proposals of the time and was underwritten by generous grants from the Russell Sage Foundation totaling some $1.2 million. In 1990, this would be equivalent to roughly $20 million. The Regional Plan and Survey was and probably remains the best funded metropolitan regional plan ever undertaken (Hays 1965).

The plan, encompassing 22 counties surrounding the Port of New York and targeted on the year 1965, incorporated proposals of the Port Authority rail plans, including those for belt line freight rail lines. Schemes for rapid-transit improvements, highway construction, zoning rationalization, and parks and parkways were assembled from a variety of sources and agencies and synthesized into a unified conception. The plan called for a ‘re-centralization’ of industry and business, involving, among other proposals, a shift of manufacturing outward from Manhattan and the core of the region. Whatever its flaws, the 1929 Regional Plan of New York and Its Environs left a significant imprint on Metropolitan New York. The plan’s basic physical planning conceptions were reflected in the subsequent development of the region.

The Regional Plan of 1929 clearly had a significant effect on the physical development of the region. But it also brought important changes in the institutional and public bodies concerned with regional development. Numerous planning and zoning agencies were established at the county and municipal levels as a direct result of field work by the staff of the Regional Plan. State policies for regional development were also stimulated by the plan and its advocates. The plan also influenced the Depression-era New Deal policies of the Roosevelt Administration. President Roosevelt was well-aware of the ideas of both the RPAA and the Regional Plan of New York.

Roosevelt spoke at a Roundtable on Regionalism held at the University of Virginia on July 11, 1931 on the need for regional planning and development, aided by the initiatives of the federal government to lead the country out of the economic stagnation it had found itself. Thus Roosevelt was instrumental in getting the thought of Southern Regionalists, such as Howard Odum and Rupert Vance of the University of North Carolina, and the ideas of the RPAA group onto the agenda of the New Deal. This may have been the origin of the idea for a Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in Roosevelt’s thinking. On a national scale, the New Deal also created a National Resources Committee to survey the needs and resources of the country.

2.3 The Tennessee Valley Authority

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was the first of the river basin or other large regional agencies to attempt to bring together the then-new concepts of integrated resource development, which was central to the conservation ideas of the time, and regional planning which was a part of the new city and area planning movement.

Roosevelt’s early speeches and papers clearly reveal a deep-seated and long-standing concern with farm problems, rural poverty, and the inadequate methods of providing services to rural areas. He also saw these problems as coupled with those of overcrowding and poor living conditions for the working people in the big cities, which he believed were fueled in part by the migration from farms to cities. The emerging concepts of regional planning seemed to Roosevelt to provide the linkage between the two problems. It is within this context that the regional planning ideas of Roosevelt were appended to earlier ideas for a multi-purpose plan for the Tennessee River, which had focused on flood control, navigation, and power generation. The main body of the TVA Act, as introduced on March 9, 1933, consisted of a comprehensive river improvement program plus two sections which provided for surveys of regional development problems and for recommendations to Congress on necessary legislation to solve these problems. The river improvement sections of the TVA Act were very explicit and provided for a navigation channel from Knoxville to the Ohio River, flood control to protect valley cities and to help control floods on the Mississippi River, and power generation. In contrast, the regional planning sections were very general and thus susceptible to either broad or narrow interpretation. TVA’s mandate to conduct and implement regional planning was never clear or unambiguous.

The National Resources Committee (later the National Resources Planning Board) envisioned TVA as the first of a nationwide array of river basin planning regions. TVA was viewed as a model for the rest and as a testing ground for new communities as originally proposed by the RPAA group. The first of these was Norris, Tennessee, built near the first hydroelectric dam, Norris Dam, originally to house construction workers, and then to be converted to housing for the local populations dislocated by the rising waters of Norris Lake. Roosevelt’s grand vision for river basin regional planning initiatives was thwarted by the interventionist scale of the vision, in a country dominated by unregulated market forces, and by the outbreak of World War Two. TVA nevertheless became a model for numerous grand multi-purpose hydro-electric and irrigation projects around the world, some misconceived and contrary to sound, integrated regional resource planning and management principles. Sadly, TVA itself has relinquished any serious commitment to regional planning leadership and has become, in effect, primarily a publicly owned wholesale electricity producer.

2.4 Appalachian Regional Commission

Besides TVA, America’s other important multi-state regional planning effort has been the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC). Like TVA, the ARC was created to deal with an economically lagging region, the mountainous, relatively inaccessible chain of counties stretching from Alabama and Georgia to the Southern Tier of Upstate New York. The ARC began as an idea of President John Kennedy, who toured West Virginia’s poverty-stricken mining towns in his campaign for the White House. The ARC was established in 1965 in the Johnson Administration. The ARC developed a plan for improving access and social services for isolated communities in parts of thirteen states. Highway improvement and infrastructure programs were central elements of ARC regional development. Thirty years later, assessments of the effectiveness of federal investments in the region are mixed. But according to one comprehensive study, the federal investment infusion seems to have been effective. Counties in the ARC program were noted on average to have developed faster economically than comparable counties not in the program (Bradshaw 1992, Isserman and Rephann 1995). ARC was still functioning in the year 2000 but other federal regional development efforts such as the eight Department of Commerce Title V regional commissions setup in other lagging regions of the US were not so fortunate. All were closed down in 1980.

2.5 Metropolitan Regional Planning

The post-war era in the United States, with its spreading suburbs and growing automobile dependency, raised new issues for regional planners, notably in the large metropolitan areas. Federal aid for metropolitan planning became available with the enactment of Section 701 of the Housing Act of 1954, stimulating the creation of planning commissions for the nation’s metropolitan areas. By 1960, two-thirds of US metropolitan areas had some form of area-wide planning and, by 1971, thanks to federal grants and statutory requirements, all of the nation’s 247 metropolitan areas had adopted official regional planning, mostly through elected, voluntary, Councils of Government (COGs). The A-95 review process, which required regional review and coordination to receive funding for large scale, federally-assisted projects, and Section 208 of the federal Clean Water Act of 1972 further stimulated the creation of regional planning bodies in metropolitan areas.

In the New York Metropolitan Region, the privately-supported Regional Plan Association produced a Second Regional Plan for the New York metropolitan area, released in November 1968. The Second Regional Plan emphasized the creation of regional subcenters linked by fast rail to Manhattan to expand job opportunities for those trapped in the central cities. For the suburbs, these centers would provide an organizing focus for social and civic life, employment opportunities, and easy access to and from Manhattan. The centers would be composed of ‘regional activities’ which would have to be built in any event to accommodate the expected additional twelve million people who would join the 18 million already in the 31 county region (expanded from the original 22-county definition) by the year 2000.

Forecasts for a large shift in employment away from manufacturing to service and white-collar jobs suggested the potential for significant office growth, some of which could go to centers outside of Manhattan. The plan proposed massive new office development for Manhattan, both in downtown and midtown but the plan also proposed that regional centers be built, both as redeveloped inner-city sub-centers such as Downtown Brooklyn, Jamaica and Newark, as older city centers in suburban cities, or as entirely new centers on open land. The centers idea took hold in a number of places, notably Jamaica, Queens, Downtown Brooklyn, and Fordham Road in the Bronx. Downtown Newark also experienced new central place development and expanded centers were developed in the outlying areas of White Plains, Stamford, and New Brunswick.

The Second Regional Plan draft addressed other issues as well. Its housing policies called for increased densities, a more compact region, better related to accessibility to jobs and activities, and more housing opportunities for lower-income and minority families. The draft also called attention to the continuing need to capture more open space and to deal with the increasingly difficult problem of waste management. The plan called for completion of the region’s share of the interstate highway network but it also made a strong case for the preservation and enlargement of existing rail transit systems.

In the 1980s, regional planning in the United States suffered a severe setback when the federal government withdrew virtually all its support for regional planning agencies, resulting in the demise of many programs. Only the transportation planning function survived in most metropolitan areas. TVA and the Appalachian programs managed to continue, though their planning functions were greatly reduced. Some states replaced federal assistance for regional planning with state funds. Other regional agencies survived by becoming more entrepreneurial, focussing on service delivery. A few states such as Florida, Georgia and Massachusetts, concerned about the negative aspects of growth, have developed growth management or ‘Smart Growth’ initiatives, which require regional planning as a framework for development policies, in some cases.

Regional cooperation in politically fragmented metropolitan areas has generally proved difficult to realize in the United States. A number of metro areas, however, have managed to achieve success in facilitating regional planning consensus. The Twin Cities region of Minneapolis St. Paul, and the Portland oregon region are often cited as examples of successful regional initiatives. The Minnesota Twin Cities area created in 1967 through state legislation a seven-county Metropolitan Council. The Council was created to address specific region-wide problems such as sewers and transportation. The Council has adopted a development guide for regional and local decision-making that identifies planned urban areas and growth centers. The Twin Cities regional initiative has enjoyed some major success, though its planning function has been scaled back in recent years.

The Portland oregon three-county region in 1979 authorized by referendum a metropolitan service district. The district provides technical assistance and reviews local plans. In 1992, the Metro, as it is called, was given approval by charter to adopt a regional framework plan to guide regional development. The framework plan will address land use, development densities, housing, transportation, natural areas, and water supply. The Portland process is generally viewed as a successful example of the application of effective regional planning to control the negative aspects of rapid growth, though some concern has been raised about the impact of controls on the housing costs.

Metropolitan regional planning has experienced a resurgence in the 1990s in a number of American urban areas such as San Diego, California and Chattanooga, Tennessee, while, in the New York metropolitan region, the Regional Plan Association released in 1995 a Third Regional Plan, successor to the 1929 Regional Plan of New York and Its Environs, and to its Second Regional Plan of 1968 (Yaro and Hiss 1996). The Third Plan has focused on ways to help the region recover its momentum so as to maintain its faltering position in the global marketplace. To address the problems facing the region, the Third Regional Plan proposes five ambitious campaigns focussed on open and green space, transportation improvements, strengthening urban centers, improving workforce skills, and streamlining governance structures. It remains to be seen whether the Third Regional Plan will have as much impact as its two predecessors.

2.6 British And European Regional Planning

The trajectory of regional planning in Britain and Europe has somewhat paralleled that of the United States. Regional planning in post-World War II Britain found new support and momentum. The New Towns idea was re-embraced as a means to rebuild a Britain exhausted by war. Regional plans for the utilization of the old, lagging industrial regions of the North of England, Wales, and Scotland were adopted. These provided for decanting of populations into a new generation of expanded and new towns. Older urban areas would be contained within protected greenbelts.

In the 1960s, regional planning was further spurred by commission reports concerned about fast growing areas, notably in the Southeast of England. Metropolitan regional planning, mainly advisory, was undertaken by county and regional councils. Their mandate was to:

(a) work out broad objectives for each region and provide a framework for detailed sectoral decision-making ;

(b) advise on national policy-making where it could significant affect regions;

(c) advise on the application of national policy in their region; and,

(d) help create a consensus within a region as to its problems and possible solutions.

Regional planning tended to be more favored by the Labour Party, less so by the Conservatives. The Conservatives tended to view taxation for social schemes and infrastructure as a burden on business and regulation and control of development as disincentives to market responses to problems of growth. The Thatcher government in the 1980s reconfigured regional planning bodies and responsibilities: the Greater London Council and other regional councils were abolished and regional planning was transformed into a mechanism for assisting large-scale private redevelopment schemes.

With the return of a more liberal-left government in the 1990s, there has been a modest return to regional planning initiatives. These initiatives, however, have continued the private public partnership approach promoted by the Thatcher government. The central government places more emphasis on local government bodies. Grand regional planning schemes are not in vogue, as pragmatism and incremental and market approaches are more the order of the day. Whether this approach will enable the UK to meet the challenges of the first decades of the new century remains to be seen. With continuing population growth, a deteriorating environment, limited local resources, and continued un and under-employment in some regions, together with a need for further integration into the European system, Britain faces hard choices. Robust, effective regional planning and implementation intermediate between the central government and local governments would appear to be a prerequisite for meeting these challenges. Whether the political climate will permit and support an articulated interventionist approach remains to be seen.

On the European continent, regional planning has been practiced with considerable success in both France and the Netherlands. France, with its strong provincial history and identities, has been able to focus its regional planning efforts on channeling excessive growth away from the Paris region towards second-and third-order city-regions. Meanwhile, the Paris region has benefited from metropolitan region planning and development that has focused on transit-based development and suburban centers. Regional planning in the Netherlands has emphasized a ‘Randstadt’ plan which focuses development on the ring of cities surrounding a protected green center in the middle of the country. The European Union has fostered regional cooperation among regions that share common characteristics. An example is the Atlantic Arc Region, the grouping of the regions of EU member country fronting the Atlantic Ocean, which share technologies and cooperative approaches to managing planning and development.

3. Future Prospects For Regional Planning

To summarize, it is reasonable to say that regional planning in western industrialized countries has historically had a checkered history of meeting the challenges of growth and decay at the sub-national level. But it is also accurate to point out that those areas that adopted and tried to carry out regional planning schemes have often achieved better results than those which simply drifted into incremental, piecemeal development. It is almost always an advantage to have some systematic framework and political consensus on which to build, even if all relevant variables cannot be predicted or controlled.

There is reason to believe that regional planning will enjoy new vitality and acceptance. Powerful new forces, needs, and demands are compelling a renewed look at the desirability of regional planning approaches. Globalization trends are fostering the integration of economies on an international basis. Metropolitan economies are increasing seen as the building blocks of a world trading system. The communication and air travel revolutions have reduced the accessibility advantages enjoyed by a few large cities. Competitiveness will require regions to make the most of their assets, and grow new ones. This will take conscious, deliberate, smart planning. Environmental pressures and the deterioration of air, water, and land have reached serious proportions in many countries. Regional approaches will be needed to address the pollution of air and water sheds, which rarely conform to the boundaries of local jurisdictions. Global warming and the need to reduce carbon emissions will inevitably require regional approaches to the transportation and land-use interface. Sustainability is becoming the norm by which regional development decisions increasingly are being judged. More attention is being paid to the protection of natural and cultural amenities, natural habitat, green areas, wetlands and waterways, which, by their scale, mandate regional approaches. At the same time, the digital revolution has provided policy-makers and the public with new tools to collect, manage, and display vast amounts of relevant data, in ways only dreamed of in the early years of regional planning. Powerful computer-based geographic information systems (GIS) now permit mapping and analysis of trends, projection of impacts, and improved understanding of alternatives by regional bodies. This new capacity will surely enhance regional planning possibilities and effectiveness in many areas and countries.


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